So Adobe Illustrator isn’t really THAT hard to get a hold of. If you ever used Photoshop or even a basic paint program, Illustrator is something that can be learned fairly simply. The basics at least… But even the most skilled designers that use adobe illustrator can be overwhelmed by the sheer number of functions and tools that are available and often overlook some of them. These basic functions can really make you more productive and make you work faster and more efficient.
1. The workspace
The first thing to make you more efficient is to arrange and customize your workspace. Remove the windows and tools you don’t need and set some that you do. Illustrator comes preloaded with some presets for the workspace but you may want to make your own arrangement. You can even save the settings and load them anytime you wish. My basic workspace features color swatches, stroke, brushes and layer windows always open. The align, transform, appearance, pathfinder and gradient windows are all minimized so that they are not in the way but can still be easily accessed whenever needed. On the left I keep the toolbar in two columns just because I’m more used to it being like that since the old days of Photoshop and Illustrator but it can be set to just one column to make it take up less space.
2. Keyboard shortcuts
We all know keyboard shortcuts like ctrl(cmd)+c and ctrl(cmd)+v for copy and paste but adobe illustrator actually features a number of other shortcuts to make your life easier. You can check them out in edit/keyboard shortcuts. Every tool has it’s own keyboard command and that can be useful when you are switching between tools rapidly and keep getting annoyed when you search for the tool in the toolbar. I know I did… You can even customize your shortcuts the way you want.
Ok… The pathfinder is really a basic tool that ALMOST everyone should know… But some people don’t and they use the pen tool to painfully make every custom shape. The pathfinder makes this task way easier. It allows you to unite and remove shapes from other shapes and manipulate the intersections with the tool. It allows you to basically make any shape you desire with the use of basic shapes.
4. Scissor tool
Ah, yes… The pathfinder is cool but sometimes it can be a pain to use if you only want to cut a certain section a shape apart. Here’s where the scissors come in. They are hidden in the eraser tool icon (click and hold). With the scissors you can cut a shape from one border point to the other in a straight line. Not only that but both sides of the shape remain on the art board. The tool is also useful when making curved text but we’ll get to that in another tutorial.
5. Draw inside a shape
Usually when I wanted to draw inside a shape I used to make a clipping mask. The process works but it’s unnecessary when a tool for that specific purpose is sitting right at the bottom of the toolbar.
6. Paste in place
I admit I quickly noticed this tool when I first started out but this can be invaluable for any designer if he doesn’t already know about it. When you cut or copy a shape you can paste it back in the exact same place by either the command edit/paste in place or a keyboard shortcut ctrl(cmd)+shift+v.
7. Appearance panel
I already mentioned this panel in the workspace tip and it’s something that most people starting out miss. I did and when I found out about it I was mad at myself because I usually created multiple layers of the same shape to achieve what the appearance panel can do in some simple clicks. Basically what the appearance panel does is give us the option to give shapes multiple fills and strokes and also set their colors, opacities and effects individually. That makes it WAY easier assigning patterns and other options to the shape.
8. Scale strokes and effects
This is one that I discovered just recently. For instance, if this option isn’t selected, whenever you resize a shape with a stroke, the stroke will stay the same weight. The stroke doesn’t scale with the shape when you resize it. To get around this I usually just expanded the stroke but that left me with no editing possibilities afterwards. The stroke was converted to a shape and that was that. With this option the stroke scales along with the shape and retains it’s editing capabilities. It’s located in illustrator/preferences/general for Mac and edit/preferences/general for Windows.
9. Smart guides
Smart guides are something that I never really thought twice about until my computer bugged out on me and I had to use a friend’s computer that had the smart guides turned of in Illustrator. The smart guides can be toggled on and of by pressing ctrl(cmd)+u. They basically work like snapping and allow you to easily align and scale your shapes and designs. They usually show up as bright lines or dots when you intersect with a guide, align objects, etc.
10. Width tool
When drawing with the pen you can set different stroke options to make your lines more dynamic with different widths and flows. This is all well and good but sometimes you won’t have the presets in the stroke options panel that you need. That’s where the width tool comes in to play. It allows you to make your strokes wider or thinner according to preference. When I discovered this tool I started using it instead of the stroke presets so much that I really don’t use the presets anymore.